Blizzard's vice president of game design, Rob Pardo, has revealed to Eurogamer that early delays to StarCraft II's development were a result of staff being called off to work on World of Warcraft for a year.
Work on StarCraft II started in 2003, but Blizzard didn't even announce the game until 2007 - and it's not due to launch until later this year. However, despite the WOW-relayed delays, Blizzard has had a playable version of the game since late 2005.
"One of the reasons that StarCraft II had some delays very early on in development is because a fair amount of the design team went onto World of Warcraft for a year to really help finish that game off," Pardo told us.
"They had a lot of really great experience to bring, with their knowledge of how they approached the map editor problems, how they dealt with balancing - which we could then leverage into class balancing."
StarCraft II lead producer Chris Sigaty confirmed that WOW had affected the development of the game, saying that "during the time that we were working on World of Warcraft, our team got sucked into that to some extent. A lot of our artists went over and worked on WOW - I was called off, too."
Sigaty is philosophical about the delay, though. "That's a question we get asked," he said. "Wow, you made this decision in 2003 and now it's 2009, what's going on? It's just been that what we've been trying to do as a company is bigger than any one project."
Once WoW launched, the team were able quickly to prepare a playable multiplayer version of StarCraft II - which they've been building upon for testing and balancing purposes ever since.
"We build the multiplayer side first," Pardo explained. "It was a brand new engine and brand new technology, so it did take us a couple of years before we had something that was reasonably playable. I would say late 2005 or early 2006 is when we had something that was probably legitimately playable."
Despite the delays, Pardo says that StarCraft II is the first time in Blizzard's recent history that a game has been developed from start to finish without having to go back to the drawing board.
"This may be the first game in our recent few games that we haven't done that major reboot with," he told us. "It's been a long project for sure, but if you look at say World of Warcraft, or Warcraft III - or even the original StarCraft - there was a halfway point where we took a dramatic left turn and took a different direction. We haven't done that with Starcraft II. That said, it's certainly taken a long time to get to where it's at, for a variety of reasons."
Blizzard didn't start work on the single-player side of the game until halfway through development, when the multiplayer was already fairly well underway - and according to Pardo, the single-player game has created an even bigger design challenge than the multiplayer.
"If anything, the single-player has taken a lot more iteration because we are going into such a new direction with how to approach that," he said - teasingly, given that Blizzard isn't actually showing us the singleplayer at this time.
"There are a lot of things in our approach to singleplayer that we've meandered around, trying different things until we got to something that we really felt happy with."
For more on StarCraft II, check out today's hands-on preview of the beta.